Thanks to his red-hot first half, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is staking a claim as baseball’s best young player. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are superstars already, but Machado is building a compelling case as well. As of this writing, the 20 year-old phenom leads the major leagues in games played, plate appearances, base hits, and doubles. According to Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculations, only Carlos Gomez and Clayton Kershaw have been more valuable.
It hasn’t taken Manny Machado long to realize the superstar potential Baltimore saw when they drafted him out of high school with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft (in which Harper, baseball’s LeBron James, went first). Little more than a year later, Manny Machado made his major-league debut. He was promoted from double-A one month after his 20th birthday, arriving to The Show on August 9, 2012, against the Kansas City Royals.
The Orioles lost 8-2 that day, snapping a five-game win streak, but Manny Machado made a good first impression. Batting ninth, he went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored. He was even more spectacular the following day, when he led the O’s to victory by slamming a pair of home runs and knocking in four runs off Luke Hochevar.
Pegged by many as a breakout candidate during the preseason, Manny Machado is well on his way to surpassing those expectations. He’s earned comparisons to Alex Rodriguez after emerging as one of the top third baseman in the American League, if not baseball; an MVP candidate, as well as a potential Gold Glove winner. His stellar all-around play is a big reason why Baltimore sits just two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East standings.
Given his rise to stardom at such a young age, it’s tempting to draw parallels to Trout, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up. Their rookie seasons were remarkably similar.
Trout’s 2011: 40 G 20 R 6 2B 5 HR 16 RBI 9 BB 30 SO .220/.281/.390
Machado’s 2012: 51 G 24 R 8 2B 7 HR 26 RBI 9 BB 38 SO .262/.294/.445
Of course, we all know what Trout did for an encore, which was put together one of the greatest seasons a baseball player (let alone a 20-year-old) has ever had. Manny Machado will be hard-pressed to approach Trout’s historic level of production, but at the rate he’s going, he could wind up with 200 hits, 60 doubles, 15 home runs, 100 runs scored and a .300+ batting average. He might even break Earl Webb‘s record for most doubles in a single season (67), a mark that’s stood since 1931.
It’s easy to get carried away with projections and comparisons. But for now, let’s just appreciate how good he is and enjoy the ride.